Bothered and Broken

It seems that most worthwhile stories set the stage, add dilemma, introduce an apparent solution, throw in an unexpected twist or two, create resolution, and teach a valuable lesson.  If so, this one is worth the telling.

Set the stage: For as long as I can remember, I have loved to walk.  I put hundreds of miles on my shoes every month.  There was a period of ten consecutive years where I walked quite a bit less because I was either pregnant, or nursing, or both, and for 45 months (9 months, 5 times) during those years, I suffered from a morning sickness that couldn’t tell time.  The experience has left me with some specific souvenirs, most notably a hearty gag reflex in response to certain sights, sounds, and tastes; but smells are definitely the worst.  My biggest o-o (stands for ‘offending odor’ and I pronounce it uh-oh’) is rotting refuse.

The dilemma: Long daily walks are bound to take me past an occasional road kill or two and I try to hold my breath until most of the putrid problem is behind me.  But the worst is trash day.  My long walks take me through several neighborhoods and it seems that inevitably, no matter what day of the week it is, it is trash day in one or many of them!  The streets are lined with containers of carnage; and the trash truck, the collection of all things contaminated, stirs it’s stench all around as it swirls and squishes what has been deposited – all the while passing me and stopping, passing me and stopping.

An apparent solution: When I lived on Oahu, I discovered a wonderful thing.  I could pick up any plumeria flower off the ground and carry it with me.  When I encountered an o-o I would hold the blossom under my nose and continue on my merry way.

A twist or two: The plumeria plan was effective and awesome until I moved off the island.  I then found myself in a place without plumeria trees; a place with very little blooming at all.  The open spaces were covered by what I called brushy cover- like ground cover, with a shape like brush.  With no fragrant flower to carry, I modified my walks so as not to be ambushed by an o-o.  I learned where the most dangerous ones were and how to avoid them.

One day I was out walking and my thoughts were interrupted by commotion in a parking lot up a slope to my right with about 12 feet of brushy cover between me and it.  I looked up to see a car about 6 feet into the brushy cover with its nose down the slope and its back tires off the ground.  A distraught grandfatherly figure, who was standing by the car, had apparently overshot his parking space and was being consoled by another man.  The ruckus that had caught my attention was the back-up beep of a tow truck which had come to the rescue.  The brushy cover was all bothered and broken under the weight of the car.  All at once, I recognized a fresh and familiar fragrance that reminded me of bathed babies at bedtime… Lavender!  The brushy cover that grew wildly all over everywhere was lavender! IMG_7487

The Resolution:  I couldn’t have ordered a more perfect replacement for the plumeria than lavender.  I have carried it ever since.  It is powerful enough to cover the strongest of stenches and plentiful enough to find wherever I go.  Today was not trash day in my neighborhood, but I was greeted with the o-o of rotten refuse as the rubbish truck drove into the elementary school across from my house to empty the dumpsters.  I smiled, rubbed the lavender I had in my hand, held it up to my nose, and reflected on that day when I realized what that brushy cover was.  If it were not for that car which had bothered and broken the plants, I might still be oblivious about its worth to me.

A valuable lesson:  And then it struck me… when I am broken and bothered because someone has driven into me with their words, attitudes or emotions, do I release a pleasing aroma?  When I reveal what is truly inside of me, is it sweet?  I had to grimace at that one.  When I am broken and bothered, what oozes out of me is more likely to be an o-o, an offensive odor.  That is not as it should be.  When I am broken, I want Jesus to seep out.  When I am bothered, I want to release the fragrance of Christ.  I want to be a surprising breath of fresh air to someone when they least expect it.  I want to be like lavender.

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Why I Love the Smell of Armpits

I had a talk this morning with the God of all creation.  It was a deep, philosophical conversation… ok, no it wasn’t.  I asked Him why He made armpits… and His answer floored me!  It all started with my morning devotions in 1 Cor. 12:18 “But in fact God has placed the parts in the body, every one of them, just as he wanted them to be.”  The analogy being made in this passage is that the body of Christ is like a physical body; different parts performing different functions, but all working together in unity for the life of the whole.  As I was contemplating this, I realized and wrote down that “When Christ created the people who make up His body, He purposefully placed the armpits”.  It was easy to surmise why God made hands and feet and mouths – in the physical and spiritual sense – but the purpose of an armpit eluded me some.

A short time later, I was out walking and wondering and talking to God and I just asked Him, “Why did You make armpits?” I tossed out a few ideas; it was a lighthearted and fun conversation and I think He was chuckling with me.   In the midst of my brainstorm about what good could outweigh the awkwardness of my armpits, I suddenly understood something so basic and yet struck me as so funny that I laughed out loud.  I know I did, because the landscaper in the median heard and turned to grin at me.  What I realized, that I think came straight from God’s heart, was that there is nothing like the smell of my armpits to compel me toward a shower.  So true!

So what about the body of Christ?  Well, in the same way, it is the duty of the armpits in the body of Christ to raise the stink that sends the collective whole running for the Living Water of God’s Word on a regular basis.  I know and appreciate people like that!  When the heat is on and there is too much busyness, it will be the armpits whose dispositions start to sour and make everyone realize that it is time to stop and pray for the cleansing of the Holy Spirit.  They are the people who first signal that we no longer present the sweet aroma of Jesus and we need to be refreshed in His presence.  They serve a beautiful and valuable purpose that lends directly to the health of the body!  Their intense funk may make me uncomfortable, but I welcome the awareness they raise and the reminder to be still (Ps. 46:10), washed (Heb. 10:22), and sanctified (1 Cor. 6:11).

God does have a valuable purpose for armpits; both physically and spiritually!  What I thought was a silly, smelly part, from which I struggled to find beauty, turns out to be a vital part of the health and well-being of the whole body!  Armpits are a reminder of just how good and amazing our Creator God is!

 

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My Shoe and My Soul

My Shoe and My Sole Soul

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These are my shoes.  They spoke to me today.  Well, God revealed something to me and He used my shoes to make His point.  The ones on the left are my old shoes.  I have put over 1000 walking miles on them since I got them last year.  The ones on the right are my new shoes.  They have walked about 25 miles with me in the past few days.

My old shoes needed to be replaced.  Why?  Well, the general answer is that they have lost their efficiency for the job they were created to do.  The specific answer could include many things such as fit, flexibility, and tread.

My old shoes don’t fit the way they used to.  They are stretched out in places where I could use their support and they have lost the spring to their step that they once had.  They now feel more like something to endure than assistance when I walk.  They have also grown stiff.  Where they once were flexible, allowing my foot to bend and move, they now stifle my ability to adjust to the terrain.  And that brings me to the tread.  My old shoes have lost the ability to grip the surfaces that I walk on, making me fearful of steep or rocky or slippery terrain and other unsteady footing.

As I was out walking today and rejoicing over my new shoes, it dawned on me how different my soles are from my soul.  The longer I walk with Christ, the more efficient I become for the job I was created to do; specifically in the areas of fit, flexibility, and tread.

When I was a new Christian, I was an awkward fit.  I was unsure of how I was equipped to support the church body or help it function.  But over time, I have learned how to identify my strengths and how they contribute to the forward motion of the gospel.  In addition, the spring in my step has increased as I have discovered the kind of joy that is present regardless of what circumstances my journey with Christ leads me through.

And flexibility – whew – that is a feature that was sadly lacking in me but is miraculously increasing as I walk with Jesus!  I am able to bend in all different directions and adjust to positions and places that would have once broken me.

But it is the tread that is the most astounding.  Whereas I was once fearful to step out into unknown terrain because I was afraid I would slip and fall, I now trust God’s grip on me.  I know He will hold me during uphill battles, through rocky valleys, and even when I get bogged down in the mire.  My soul is secure with Jesus.

The further I go with the Lord, the more valuable I become for His purpose.  He doesn’t want to replace my mile laden soul, He gives me more distance to cover.  The longer I walk in step with Him, the more in sync we are and the more productive and effective I am for Him; and I have more confidence for the journey.

One last and somewhat random thought that came as I was pondering my sole and my soul is that if God can spread truth using an old shoe, He can certainly use me.  And you.  I have just disclosed the insight He gave me today.  How about you?  Is He speaking something to you that He wants you to share?  Have you been listening?

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my HERO

I’ve spent considerable time examining a burden I feel for today’s youth and really the church as a whole.  People seem to be ditching their walks with Jesus and the only reason I can figure is that their hearts have grown immune to the gospel message.  I want to gather them in and tell it this way:

Our enemy has us.  He is ruthless and in his grasp we will be tortured mercilessly.  We will not get away; we belong to him.  We can’t see him, but he will be upon us any minute.  Maybe today, maybe tomorrow; we will live in fear, because it’s only a matter of time.  He will not kill us.  He will brutalize us day after day after day.  This is reality.  The extreme panic and suffocating dread we feel in anticipation are nothing compared to the appalling actuality of  the certainty in store. 

Let that sink in.  Hopeless.  Helpless.  Doomed.

Suddenly we get word that someone who was never even in danger has left his place of safety and given Himself up to draw out the enemy and in so doing has provided a window of escape for us.  While He distracts and defeats the enemy, we are able to flee our prison.  We feel elation, relief, inexplicable joy… not only have we have been saved from the unimaginable, now the enemy is powerless over us forever!!  But there are still people living in the terror we experienced.   They don’t know about the Hero and how He has been victorious over our enemy.  We get to tell them.  They might not believe our words… but we can model our freedom and convince them by the way we live our lives.  We no longer have to agonize over our tomorrows; we have been saved and we get to help rescue others. 

In this reality, how can anyone consider this new life too boring, too hard, or not enough fun?  I can only imagine it is ignorance.  We who have grown up in church have been told over and over again that God loves us and has a wonderful plan for our lives.  And that is good news.  But it isn’t radical and astounding good news unless we understand how horrific our plight was.  And I think we are largely unfamiliar with that.  It hasn’t sunk in.  We have never really felt it.  In addition, our vanquished enemy has changed his ploy.  He holds big parties and stands in open armed invitation to experience what he suggests we are missing in the shelter of our Hero.  He entices and seduces and convinces us that we want to be in his grasp.  We live in selfish rebellion without realizing what has been done to save us from the horrifying hell we are slinking back into.  Our Hero must have foreseen this as he looked at the hardhearted and unappreciative people who jeered him as He suffered for them and said “Father, forgive them, for they do not know what they are doing.”

 

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All is well at the Well

WellI saw her very thirsty, standing next to the well she’d pulled fresh water from for several years.  A ways off, she noticed a refrigerated drinking fountain and thought it might produce colder water, so she ran to it for a drink.  When she got there, she realized it was not plugged into any electrical source or connected to any pipe, so it was dusty and dry like she was.  She thought about running back to the well, but further in the distance, she saw a pond!  It looked better than the well because she figured she could immerse her whole self into the cool water, so she set off towards the pool.  It was much further away than she realized, but each step just made her more anxious than ever to feel it’s freshness on her skin.  It wasn’t until she reached the water’s edge that it disappeared and she realized it was just a mirage.  She stopped to think.  Much further down the desolate road, she could see green trees – a likely sign there was water over there.  As she turned to consider heading back toward the well, the sure thing, she heard a voice in her head reminding her of how far she had already come and how she might never get another chance to explore the distant foliage.  She agreed with the voice and decided that the trees offered shade as well as water and she kept traveling away from the well.  She was in desperate need of refreshment and the trek to the row of greenery was long.  When she arrived, she was hot, tired, sunburned and dizzy.  She gathered her strength and ran the last bit of the way.  As she jumped into the branches, she did not feel the cool of shade, but the resistance of canvas as it hesitated and then tore.  She burst through a large and beautiful painting of a lush landscape and kicked up dust as she landed in the dry dirt behind it.  She wasn’t sure if she could actually hear someone laughing at her or just feel it.  She now needed water to save her life.  She feared the well was too far back and wished she had never left it in the first place.  Just as she was about to turn around and press every last bit of her energy into reaching that well, she heard the sounds of splashing!  She looked up and saw, further down the road, a lake.  There were people laughing and splashing each other and drinking from an inlet that fed in from the side.  It was everything her heart desired at that moment and she set off quickly without further thought of the well.  Her face almost couldn’t contain her smile until she arrived at the water’s edge and saw the blue light dancing across her dry toes.  It was then she saw the film projector and realized that this too, had been a trick.  She saw Satan sitting behind the video and audio controls and realized he’d been playing games with her all along.  She knew Jesus was the Living Water in the Well that never ran dry (John 4:14), yet she had fallen prey to the lie that there was something better, and had followed her desires to this place of desolation and desperation (James 1:14).  She was empty, parched and way to far from the well to walk back on her own accord.  She slumped into a heap on the hot dirt as she imagined the happy conversations that were taking place around the comfort of the well.  She realized that she had taken the satisfaction for granted and wished she had appreciated the well-being she had enjoyed.

I believe we are living in the last days.  How close we are to the actual end, I don’t know.  But I am sure we are much nearer now than we were 2014 years ago when God sent His Son to proclaim His plan of Salvation to mankind.  One of the most alarming signs of these times is the growth of the apostate church.  I’m talking about people who can quote scriptures and sing hymns and who should know better, who fall to the same temptations over and over again.  I was out praying – well crying, if truth be told – to God about it today and He gave me the above picture of someone I was especially grieved for:

As I understood how this illustrated the life of my friend, I realized that we all have mirages that we are tempted to follow.  It might be a forbidden relationship that we pursue until we have taken ourselves quite a distance from God’s perfect will.  It could be an illegal substance, a sense of power, or our own autonomy.  Anything that draws us away from God, as our focus, will be unsatisfactory.  We will have to chase it further and further and we will keep coming up empty.  At some point, we will have to admit defeat.  What tears me up is the fact that I am witnessing this phenomenon in the lives of so many Believers!  Not only do they know better than to leave the Well, they know that God is faithful and merciful and that they can turn back at any point along their route of failure!  And yet they don’t!  They think about it, maybe look longingly back, perhaps even accept some encouragement from someone who has journeyed out to help, but then they turn their backs to Him again as they chase down the next illusion.

The dangers of this foolishness are huge.  They could succumb to the hazards of a life unprotected and unnourished by the Living Well.  They could be so seared from wandering into one trick after another that they don’t remember whether the Well was really there (1 Tim. 4:1,2).  And it stands to reason that they could miss the Rapture because they are running hard in the opposite direction of the Well when Jesus, in the blink of an eye, gathers those whose lives are centered on it (1 Cor. 15:52).

As I contemplated the reality and vastness of this problem, I felt so discouraged.  God has brought many of these people into my life and I don’t know how to help.  I have tried to send refreshment along their way.  I’ve ‘misted them’ with prayers.  I have run out to offer what water I could carry and I have tried to be there at those moments when they realize that their latest attraction was just another empty hole of nothingness so I can escort, cheer, support, and encourage their decision to turn back to the Well.  The thing that I know that they know too is that the Well is never far away!  Once they decide to do whatever it takes and turn their feet 180 degrees back toward that Living Water, Jesus will bring Enough right to where they are!  And then, He will pick them up, dust them off and bring them back to the Well Himself.  They might have some blisters and some disappointment that linger from their journey, but He will help with those too!

As a church we are supposed to be expending our collective energy reaching the unsaved; introducing thirsty souls to our Living Water.  This is our Great Commission (Matt. 28:19-20).  How are we to accomplish this when we are so busy chasing after our own who are running after shifting shadows?  I had to ask God to renew me.  I feared I would grow afraid to care because it hurts to watch people I love as they run in the direction of destruction!  I was concerned that while the lost are being saved, some we think are saved will be lost.  And as quickly as I asked, He reminded me…

That at the end of my worry is my whole-hearted confidence in God.  He does not let one of us out of His sight (Heb. 14:3), nor forget how many hairs are on each of our heads (Matt 10:30).  He loves people so much that He died to give us the choice to choose Him (John 3:16).  He keeps our tears in a bottle (Ps. 56:8) and knows us through and through (Ps 139).  I can rest assured that He is capable and in charge and I can trust His instructions (Ps. 145:13).  I can be bold, I can be strong, and I can be tireless – because He gives me His power (Eph. 6:10).  The time is short and our Salvation draws nearer every day (Rom. 13:11).  Ministry within the church is becoming as consuming as the mission field without.  Oh Lord, may we finish well and may we finish at the Well!

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A Garland at the Table

Mother had been busy preparing dinner for her family and it was ready to serve.  The meat was perfectly moist, the rolls were steaming hot and the vegetables were crisp-tender!  When suddenly, her adoring daughter entered with an armful of crumbly leaves, a bundle of shedding twine, a dripping bottle of glue and some other assorted odds and ends.  She plunked it all down on the kitchen table with a smile and declared that she enjoyed crafts and was going to make a fall garland for her mommy because “she loved her so much”.

Have you ever been in a situation where someone lovingly did something for you that inconvenienced you?  In moments like those, wouldn’t it have been better if your benefactor had taken the time to notice what you were doing before they acted? What if the daughter in the scene above had noticed the meal and offered to display her devotion by quickly setting the table for her mom instead of cluttering it?  Could mother have enjoyed the appreciation without the awkward task of redirection?Illustration of Mother and Children Carrying Thanksgiving Dinner by Douglass Crockwell

What about us and God?  How do we decide what we are going to do for Him?  Does our thought process go something like this?

“Hmmm, I am going to give some time to the Lord in exchange for all He has done for me.  I enjoy my comfortable office.  I love to read my Bible.  I would like to get to know my co-workers better.  I don’t really prefer to eat lunch alone.  I know – I’ll start a Bible Study in my office at lunch and invite all of my co-workers!  God will be so honored by my gift of service!”

Isn’t it common use a lot of “I” and “me” as we ponder service to the Lord?  God is a loving Father.  He appreciates our desires to please Him, but sometimes we miss our chance to really bless His heart by failing to notice His endeavors.  He is always at work!  We can join God in the activity He is engaged in all around us.  For instance:

  • Perhaps He has been doing mighty things through a group that He has called to pray together at the church midday and would like me to join them.
  • It is possible that He has been preparing the hearts of the teens that meet at the local coffee shop at lunch and would like you to share His story with them.
  • There is a chance He wants to work on some personal things with me and would prefer I spend the break in prayer and fasting.
  • And maybe, you are right on target and He is moving in your office to stir up a revival among your co-workers and is asking you to bring everybody together.

They key is to be alert to see what God is doing and to prayerfully ask how He would be most benefited by us.  When we set out to offer something to Him, it should not be based on what we want to give, as much as what He would like to receive.  It is all about Him.

What are you doing right now in your life for the Lord?  Is it His effort that you are assisting or is it your idea that you are asking Him to bless?  Are you making a garland at His feasting table, or following the example of Jesus? John 5:19 “So Jesus answered them, “I tell you the solemn truth, the Son can do nothing on his own initiative, but only what he sees the Father doing. For whatever the Father does, the Son does likewise.”

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Access to Excess

Lots

Have you ever had a LOT of something?  Maybe a fruit tree in your yard was overwhelming you with ripe produce all at once, or you purchased something in bulk because the price was just too good and now you realize you will never use it all!

What do we tend to do in those situations?  We use the excess in every way imaginable and then we start giving it away, don’t we?  And when people who need what we have are shy about accepting it, we encourage them to take as much as they want and more!  We bag it up and pass it out at church, at school, at the office, wherever we can.  It doesn’t require any sacrifice on our part to be so generous.

Are you a Christian?  Have you believed in the Lord Jesus Christ and been saved? (Acts 16:31)  Do you realize that when you received your salvation, you also received access to an over-abundance of grace and kindness and Godly character?  Ephesians 2:6-7 says this: “And God raised us up with Christ and seated us with him in the heavenly realms in Christ Jesus, in order that in the coming ages he might show the incomparable riches of his grace, expressed in his kindness to us in Christ Jesus.”

The subject of incomparable riches is a theme in Ephesians; and in other books of the Bible as well.  A quick word study will reveal that the bottomless well of treasures we are invited, even commanded, to partake of in Christ includes riches of grace1, kindness2, forbearance and patience3, glory4, mercy5, wisdom and knowledge6, power7, and understanding8.

When others need these things from us, do we act like we have an abundance?  Do we pass out kindness and patience with abandon?  Do we “bag up” mercy and understanding and easily give it to people who aren’t even asking?  If not, why not?

I know for me, personally, I am quick to go to Jesus and gather what I need only for myself.  That makes me stingy.  If I share with people in need, then I tend to run out.  What I am left with, in and of myself, is impatience, unkindness, judgmental attitudes and weakness.

God does not want us to be a container for His assets, which empties in time.  He wants us to be a conduit, tapped into his incomparable riches on one end, letting them flow freely through us to others.  In so doing, we will catch their attention, draw them to the Source for themselves and allow the Holy Spirit to do His redeeming work in them as well.  This is what we were saved to accomplish as we wait for the glorious return of our Lord and Savior.

Ephesians 3:16-19 “I pray that out of his glorious riches he may strengthen you with power through his Spirit in your inner being, so that Christ may dwell in your hearts through faith. And I pray that you, being rooted and established in love, may have power, together with all the Lord’s holy people, to grasp how wide and long and high and deep is the love of Christ, and to know this love that surpasses knowledge—that you may be filled to the measure of all the fullness of God.”

1 (Eph. 1:7, 2:7, 3:8)

2 (Rom. 2:4, Eph. 2:7)

3 (Rom. 2:4)

4 (Rom. 9:23, Phil. 4:19, Col. 1:27)

5 (Rom. 9:23, Eph. 2:4)

6 (Rom. 11:33)

7 (Eph. 3:16)

8 (Col. 2:2)

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